The above is a shutoff notice for electricity bills not paid by a family that immigrated here illegally. They owe some $2,500, some of which is coming from an interfaith organization and some of which needs to come from us.
“How did it get to be that high?” I ask Jimena.
“She got depressed,” was the answer. “Her husband was deported, and she is here alone with two small children. We kept on telling her she had to do something. She has children she must take care of, she must find more work, especially now that the farms are slowly opening. The children have to go to school, she has to pay the bills. We tell her that, I think he tells her that also on the phone. But for a long time, she can’t. So, the bills get bigger and bigger.”
$2500 worth for electricity, and now the shut-off. Our electricity rates have gone through the roof this past year, but $2500 is a lot of money. A lot of electricity. A lot of depression.
I can hear a voice inside, a voice I associate with my mother: “That’s a terrible thing to happen, to lose the husband so suddenly. But it doesn’t matter, she’s the mother, what choice does she have? She can’t just stop taking care of her children, she can’t just stop working. No matter what life does to you, you have to get up and do something.”
It’s my voice, too. If there’s hardship, so be it. If there are shocks to the system, that’s terrible and it’s also life. Now get back to it and take care of things.
That’s how I’ve operated for much of my life. If rough things happened, I’d let myself stand by the window and look out for half an hour, and then: That’s enough. Now go back and do what you have to do. I rarely allowed myself more than a peek at the darkness.
My body didn’t always cooperate, especially in the early mornings when I didn’t have it in me to get up on my feet. A lot like this woman, Elizabeth, who also couldn’t get out of bed. And then there was a weeping phone conversation with my sister (long before WhatsApp), and when it ended, I realized that I was sitting on the floor, unable to put the phone back in the wall unit. How did I get here? I wondered.
Still, those things rarely happened. It could be worse, I’d always remind myself. Life is good; life is important. Always, always go on.
I still think life is good. Important, maybe yes and maybe no. I took the dogs out for a walk on the road the other day and Henry, the 15-pound Chihuahua mix, wanted to turn back. Lately he’s freaked from people target-shooting and even from loud, sudden construction noises. There was nothing this time, but he still wanted to go back home.
“Come on, Henry, it’s okay, you can do it,” I said, laughing, and shook my head at the little dog. Hey, he’s small, so his apprehension is small too, right?
And then it hit me: What happens if there’s an intelligence out there that sees my fears, grief, and loss, and smiles and shakes its head, thinking: She’s so small. She thinks her thoughts and feelings are big and important, but she’s so small.
Trying to exile the darkness is no solution. It’s part of me, maybe even a friend. A friend in the sense that it pushes me to the very bottom of things, into depths I didn’t know existed, with no visible stairway out, as if to say: This is it. There’s no place to go from here.
My pain-in-the-ass Buddhist mind tells me: It’ll change; everything changes. I know I know, not to mention that walks out in nature help a lot. But sometimes there’s no recourse but to feel that dusky gloom, smell the shade and shadows. I don’t embrace any of it except to acknowledge that it’s all me.
I also don’t confuse it with long-term depression, which diminishes substantially with the use of anti-depressants.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
I say it simpler, if less eloquently: Take one breath, then another. Is there anything the breath can’t contain?
Please help Elizabeth with her electricity bill. It’s been a long time since I’ve asked for money on behalf of immigrant families. Their treks to the US are often unimaginable, but so are their treks after crossing the border. Try to imagine what it’s like to live in a foreign land with a language you don’t speak, raising two young children even as you pray to get a hard physical job in the local farms, with its long hours, no medical insurance, a husband deported, and an uncontainable sadness even as you know you have to get up on your feet no matter how tired or disconsolate you may feel. Not to mention the threatened loss of electricity.
We can’t deal with all those challenges, but we can help pay for her electricity to keep the lights on. You can help by using the button below that says: Donate to Immigrant Families.